The Origins of Modern Science, 1500-1700

Professor Michael S. Mahoney

Department of History and Program in History of Science
Princeton University

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During the 16th and 17th centuries, a small but growing number of European thinkers articulated a new understanding of the natural world, of what could be known about it, and of how that knowledge could be applied to human purposes. Through an examination of formative episodes in modern astronomy, mechanics, optics, and physiology, the seminar will trace the emergence of science as an independent, institutionalized cultural activity. The seminar will also serve as an introduction to history of science as a tool of historical investigation and as a resource for teaching science.

Schedule and Readings

For the most part, we will be reading original sources, selections from the major scientific works of the period.  There will also be some secondary accounts available online. For an overview of the subject, we have Steven Shapin's provocative work, The Scientific Revolution, consisting conveniently of three main chapters.  We will split the reading over the three sessions, beginning with the Introduction and Chap. 1.  The reading for each session also contains links to several online primary sources.  I do not expect you to read them all, or indeed any of them in their entirety.  However, as time allows and interest stimulates, take a look at them.


 

TOPIC

READING

 

Session 1. The New Heavens

9:00 
10:30 
10:45 
12:00 
1:00 
3:00 
Introductions
Coffee
Ptolemy and Copernicus
Lunch
Galileo
Adjourn
Shapin, Introduction and Chap. 1

Nicholas Copernicus, On the Revolutions (trans. Rosen), Prefatory material and Book I (online)
The Law School at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, has assembled an online collection of materials related to the Trial of Galileo. Among the materials is an abridged version of the Drake translation of the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.   His earlier treatise, The Starry Messenger, announcing his telescopic discoveries is also available online (pdf).
 

Session 2. The Clockwork Universe

9:00 
10:30 
10:45 
12:00 
1:00 
3:00 
Galileo and Renaissance Engineering
Coffee
Descartes
Lunch
Huygens and Newton
Adjourn
Shapin, Chap. 2

Picturing Machines, 1400-1700, ed. Wolfgang Lefèvre (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004)
As a resource for the workshop from which the book emerged, Lefèvre and Marcus Popplow, together with coworkers at the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, assembled a multilinked, cross-referenced database of illustrations from the Renaissance machine literature, including many of the works cited in the article by Hall below; start browsing here.
René Descartes, The World, or Treatise on Light [online]
M.S. Mahoney, "Charting the Globe and Tracking the Heavens: Navigation and the Sciences in the Early Modern Era"
Isaac Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (ed. Cajori), xvii-xxxiii, 1-28 [definitions and axioms], 40-41 [Prop. I], 398-419 [preface, rules of reasoning, phaenomena, Props. I-X], 543-547 [General Scholium]
Newton, Opticks (ed. Cohen), Query 31 [in packet; online pdf version of 1721 edition, Qu. 31 at pp. 350-382]
 

Session 3. The Experimenters

9:00
10:30
10:45
12:00
1:00
3:00
Bacon
Coffee
Vesalius and Harvey
Lunch
Hooke and the Virtuosi
Adjourn
Shapin, Chap. 3

Francis Bacon, The New Organon (1620), Book I  [online version] [and another] [and the original Latin]
Andreas Vesalius, On the Structure of the Human Body (1543); see online selection of the drawings at the National Library of Medicine's "Historical Anatomies on the Web".
William Harvey, The Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals (1628) [online version]
Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1665) [Original edition online]
Steven Shapin, "Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle's Literary Technology", Social Studies of Science 14(1984), 481-520 (online version)